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The Bladensburg Cross Stigmatizes Atheists and Dishonors Nonreligious Veterans

Washington, DC—American Atheists, in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court yesterday, urged the Court to uphold decades of precedent and rule that a 40-foot tall Latin cross on government property is unconstitutional.

The cross at issue in this case is the so-called “Peace Cross” memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland, that was erected in 1925—ostensibly to honor local veterans who died during World War I.

In a joint amicus brief from American Atheists, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the Center for Inquiry, the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, and the Secular Coalition for America, the groups told the Court that Latin crosses are inappropriate as collective war memorials and, in fact, marginalize atheists and dishonor non-religious servicemembers.

“The Latin cross is the symbol for exactly one thing: Christianity,” said American Atheists President Nick Fish. “Claiming that the universal symbol for one religious denomination represents all the veterans who gave their lives to protect our nation is an insult to their sacrifice.”

Today, one-fourth to one-third of Americans identify as religiously unaffiliated, including atheists, agnostics, and persons otherwise not affiliated with religion. Indeed, the unaffiliated now outnumber citizens of any denomination of Christianity, or any other religion.

“These religious monuments erase atheist veterans from our nation’s collective memory,” said Kathleen Johnson, immediate past Vice President of American Atheists and a retired U.S. Army First Sergeant. “Allowing this exclusionary memorial to stand sends the clear message to atheists and members of minority religions currently serving that their sacrifices will be ignored.”

“I hope the Supreme Court will allow us to recognize and celebrate the contributions of all veterans, not just those who are members of one particular religion,” Johnson added.

American Atheists thanks the team of attorneys from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP led by Robert M. Loeb, and Gregory M. Lipper of Clinton & Peed, for their work on this brief.

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Image by Ben Jacobson (Kranar Drogin) via Wikimedia under CC 3.0